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Laws protect workers who report discrimination

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In a 7-2 decision Tuesday, the Supreme Court sided with a Cracker Barrel restaurant manager who says he was fired for complaining that a fellow worker was dismissed because she was black, according to The Wall Street Journal. The ruling reiterated that federal civil-rights laws protect not only workers who suffer discrimination but also workers who report discrimination.

This allows the manager to pursue his lawsuit under Section 1981, an 1866 law intended to protect freed slaves from discrimination. Although the law says nothing about retaliation for reporting the violation of another person's rights, Justice Stephen Breyer's majority opinion pointed out the Supreme Court long has read Reconstruction-era civil-rights laws as protecting against retaliation.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who was one of two dissenters, said Section 1981 is not the answer and the majority had implied a right the law didn’t offer. He wrote: "When an individual is subjected to reprisal because he has complained about racial discrimination, the injury he suffers is not on account of his race; rather it is the result of his conduct."

Cracker Barrel, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups say that instead of Section 1981, employees claiming retaliation could use Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This is more restrictive that Section 1981, with tighter deadlines and exclusion of some employers, and doesn't apply to nonemployment contracts.

Although Breyer notes some overlap between the two laws, in a 1975 case he maintained that they were separate and distinct laws.


5/30/2008

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